O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Fear or faith?
Fear or faith?
Based on Mt. 25:14-30
Preached on Nov. 19, 2017
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Fellow baptized saints, fear. It’s one of our greatest paralyzers, isn’t it? Fear of failure. Fear of criticism. Fear of punishment. It can start with a harsh word from a parent; or a discouraging criticism from a teacher; or a hard and demanding boss. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” we say, and yet working under a shroud of fear, nothing ventured actually seems like a pretty safe bet. At least it did to the cautious servant in our Lord’s parable for today – the parable of talents.
A talent was an unit of money. A pretty big chunk of coin actually - worth at least a thousand days’ wages for a common laborer. Our word “talent” today meaning ability or aptitude as in “musical talent” apparently goes back to this very parable. But for these servants - we’re not talking about musical talent – we’re talking money – big chunks of money on loan from their master for which there is a coming day of reckoning and reward with the master’s return. Oh, we’ll talk about the return in a second, but first we need to get a firm grip on the parable itself.
The first thing we notice – and it jumps right out at us - is that he doesn’t give the same amount to each servant – one gets five talents, another two, and a third - only one. God doesn’t dole out talent equally. We tend to be fixated on “equality” - as if it were something good and desirable – and our fixation started young – real young - ever since we started comparing what we got with that of our siblings - and starting protesting, “Hey, he got more than me.” Whether it’s the number of Christmas gifts, or the size of the piece of cake for dessert – we’re masters at measuring, aren’t we – or so we think - every kid has this intense sense of equality. Equality means fair, and fair means just, and just is how God is supposed to work. So in our ideal world, every servant gets the same. Or if by some chance they don’t, we’ll take away from the one who has more and give to the one who has less.
But that’s not the way God works, not with this master, who, like it or not, is the God figure in the parable. He doles out his talents unequally. And the old Adam, who tends to behave like a spoiled brat, cries out, “Hey that’s not fair! He got more than me.” Each servant gets what is appropriate, “according to his ability.” He doesn’t give them more than they can handle, nor less than they are able to manage. He knows each of his servants and what they’re capable of, and He puts into their hands what is right for them. Do we trust that God works that way with us? Do we trust that God knows what we can handle, and what we can’t, and He places into our hands what is appropriate? It isn’t equal, but equality wouldn’t do justice to who we are, just as a father doesn’t love every child the same but each child according to who he or she is.
Then he goes away. He leaves no set of instructions, no rules on what to do with his talents, no quotas or goals for the servants to reach. He simply hands them a wad of money and says, “Go and do business until I get back” and he leaves.
You might ask, “Is that any way to run a business much less care for your investment?” At least a few instructions, or some goals to shoot for. But the master refuses to micro-manage. He doesn’t bother to manage at all. He just turns his servants loose with his money and leaves. Can you handle a God who doesn’t micromanage your life, who doesn’t tell you what to do and when to do it? Can you even fathom a God who entrusts His treasures into the fumbling hands of men and then disappears with a promise “Lo, I am with you always until the end of the age”? Can you bear that kind of freedom that says, “Here’s ten thousand bucks, go do business and have a ball. I’ll see you when I get back.” Can you imagine a God like that?
So what would you do if you were one of those servants? Go to the racetrack or the casino and gamble with it hoping to strike it big? Invest it in the market? That would be a gamble too these days. Tuck it safely in the bank maybe. Stuff it in a mattress? A lot would depend on what kind of master you had, wouldn’t it? If you were confident that he was merciful, kind and forgiving, you might invest in some high risk ventures. If you knew he was a tight bookkeeper, you might be a bit more conservative. Well, there are three servants in this parable. While the other two servants were out doing business with their master’s money, the third servant was hard at work digging a hole to hide his talent until the master’s return. Both faith and unbelief are busy – one happily doing business, the other fearfully hiding to justify oneself.
Then comes that day of reckoning. Judgment Day, the day the books are open and the truth is told. The first servant who received five talents made five more, a 100% profit, for which he hears a hearty “Well done!” and receives his reward and a share in his master’s joy. The second servant, who received two talents made two more, a 100% profit, for which he hears a hearty “Well done!” and receives his reward and a share in his master’s joy. And then comes the third servant - with the “talent on loan from God” which he just dug out of the ground, shiny, untarnished, unused. “I was afraid, for I knew you to be a hard and ruthless man. You reap where you don’t sow, you gather where you don’t scatter. And so I buried your talent in the ground. Here. Take it. It’s yours.”
Luther once said, “You have the God you believe in.” If you believe that God is a harsh judge, who gives everyone what they deserve, that’s the God you will have. If you believe that God is merciful and gracious, that He is slow to anger and abounds in love, that He forgives sin and justifies the sinner all for His Son Jesus’ sake, well, that’s the God you have. The servant gets the master he believes he has. He loses his talent, that he buried out of fear, and he himself is cast out of his master’s house into the no-place of outer darkness and weeping and grinding of teeth.
The servant was in, a member of his master’s household, but now he is out. It isn’t that some are forever in and others are forever out. No - in Jesus’ parables, the ones who are out are the first to be brought in. But the parable teaches us something about faith and unbelief. In this parable, faith works freely and confidently, without so much as a rule or goal, while unbelief sits frozen in the paralysis of fear, stuffing its talent into mattresses and holes in the ground for safe-keeping.
Jesus came into this world as a servant. The true Servant of God, the Son who does His Father’s bidding. His talent was not simply “on loan from God.” It was His as the Son of God. Yet He freely and faithfully worked to bring nothing less than the world, the whole cosmic order, back to His Father. Though He was the good and faithful Servant, He became for us, the Suffering Servant, bearing the sins of our faithlessness. He became that faithless servant, cast into outer darkness, taking on Himself the weeping and gnashing of teeth, dealing with the harsh task master of the Law that condemns each of us. When He told this parable, He was going to the world’s Judgment Day to be judged on the world’s behalf. This parable is about Him – and then it is about you and me.
Jesus freed us to serve our Father without fear. You have been liberated from the demands and quotas and goals of the Law. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” You appear before the Father as the good and faithful servant that Jesus is, covered with Him, clothed with Him, baptized into Him. He is your freedom to serve God without fear all the days of your life, to take that talent on loan from God and use it in service, in praise, in joy, whether winning or losing, whether in success or failure, whether for profit or loss. It doesn’t matter. What matters is faith. Freedom.
That goes not only for your various aptitudes and abilities – some of the things we pledge here today – but for your greatest “talent on loan from God” - the very Gospel itself - Good news - that God has reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus, that He does not count men’s sins against them, that He closed the books on the Law two thousand years ago on a cross. The talent of the Gospel is given to be shared not hoarded, to be broadcast not buried, to be told not held as a secret. Beloved, you know something that in all likelihood the world does not know – that God is not an angry judge, He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love. He justifies the ungodly and declares the guilty to be innocent. He forgives, freely, for Jesus’ sake. The world doesn’t know this. Most people, even religious people, do not know this or believe it. But you do. That’s your talent on loan from God. Something priceless – yet free.
The question in today’s parable is whether we will use our talent freely or fearfully, in faith or unfaith, trusting that God is good and gracious and forgiving or fearing that He is harsh and demanding and judgmental. Look to the cross of Jesus, and you will see the God you have, the One who comes to judge the living and the dead, the One who came to be the Servant of all. Look to the cross of Jesus, and there find the confidence, the boldness, the freedom to put that talent to work and enter into the joy of your master. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr